Writing a great headline is hard. Here’s how to do it.
In the digital age, writing a headline is extremely important. There are so many places out there on the web competing for people’s attention and WATM is not just competing with Military Times or Military.com, or other military-related websites. It is competing with the entire web — whatever is in the user’s Facebook news feed — for attention.A good headline grabs someone. Not only that, it should immediately get an emotional reaction. In hardly any instance is it wise to save the important part for the story, and do a straight, boring, newspaper headline. The headline is what makes a person click through to read. Put simply, if they are not interested in the headline, they aren’t going to even give you the opportunity to show them why it’s a cool story. You already lost them.
First, some formatting notes that are important:
- Headlines should be in sentence case.
- This is a properly-formatted headline
- This is Not a Properly-Formatted Headline
- Avoid swears in the headline unless absolutely necessary. There may be times when this would work, so they are not absolutely forbidden. But avoid them if you can.
Constructing a great headline
What is a great headline? This varies from person to person, but a headline should be informative and interesting, without lying to the reader. Headlines are much more important nowadays. My former boss Gus at Business Insider explains:
Your goal is to post good content and get people to view it without resorting to unfair tricks. This isn’t a magazine, where people will read whatever is on the page. It is a ruthlessly competitive environment, where people are choosing between dozens of stories on our page, hundreds of stories on twitter, and infinite stories on the Internet.
People will only click news if they understand its significance, so focus on significance when necessary to reach a wider audience. When news becomes old, which happens fast on the Internet, then further coverage of a story should focus on compelling analysis, exciting details, or other added value. Compelling analysis and exciting concepts can also be good without a news hook.
Rhetorical techniques can help increase clicks but should not be overused. Obfuscation can create intrigue and works well when a headline reads naturally and conveys some information already, but it can be annoying if too teasing. Dramatic language can heighten interest, but it backfires when overused or overstated.
Now instead of writing on and on about how to create a headline, let’s look at some examples that did well and work backwards. Here’s the headline:
11 Things New Soldiers Complain About During Basic Training
This is a great headline because it tells the reader exactly what they are going to get without overselling it. It doesn’t need to be “Incredible Things” or “Awesome Things.” It’s enough as it is, and the subject is interesting while being a little teasing. What are these things? Let’s definitely click and see what they are.
Soldiers want to click this headline to see if their complaint is in it, and civilians want to click it to get a view into the world of a soldier. It’s a great headline (and a great post).
27 Incredible Photos Of Life On A US Navy Submarine
Another example of an interesting premise that both sides want to read about: sailors and civilian. This headline promises something you don’t normally get to see. Not only are you going to check out life on a Navy submarine, but it’ll include incredible photos.
7 Key Military Life Hacks That Matter In Civilian Life
This headline uses the term “life hacks” which everyone knows with a military spin on it. What can we learn from the military and really use? There is a promise give the reader something new they can learn.
- Start with a solid premise that is accessible to a large audience
- Make the point in the headline. Don’t save it for the story.
- Use as few words as possible. Always shoot for brevity.
Here is a look at our best posts over the past few months. Check out the headlines for ideas:
This is how John Kelly shut down speculation on President Trump's gold star family call
"If you're not in the family, if you've never worn the uniform, if you've never been in combat, you can't even imagine how to make that call," Kelly said.
Blumhouse and WATM team up to produce 'Searching for Bergdahl'
Blumhouse Television and WATM are teaming up to produce the documentary "Searching for Bergdahl," the untold story of the seven-year search for the missing soldier.
This is the real reason John McCain's Liberty Medal speech was so epic
When US media focused on a jab at President Trump, they missed the parting thoughts of a veteran and public servant of more than 60 years.
This little bot can take a lickin' and keep on tickin' for troops on assault
Weighing a little over five pounds, the FirstLook can handle being thrown into a hostile environment.
This is one of the deadliest kamikaze attacks caught on film
Japanese kamikaze pilots struck fear in the hearts of allied troops as they conducted choreographed nose-dives right into U.S. warships during WWII.
This is what it was like fighting alongside Afghan troops
In nearly every war in which America has taken part, troops have had to work alongside local forces who aren't always very motivated to fight.
This is how AC/DC helped save a POW in Mogadishu
The ending of "Black Hawk Down" was just slightly different than Ridley Scott showed. It was a moment former POW Mike Durant would never forget.
Russia is buying more of these 'Fullback' fighter jets — and they're pretty impressive
The Russian Ministry of Defense says it just got four more SU-34 bombers, and they're impressive AF. We have the details and video for you here.
More than 100 killed in Taliban attacks across Afghanistan
The Afghan Defense Ministry is reporting over 100 Afghan deaths in October. The Taliban killed Afghan police officers and soldiers, and civilians.